June 17, 2024
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June 17, 2024
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Although Parshat Chayei Sarah seems straightforward, questions abound. Why is the narrative of Sarah’s burial appended to the story of finding a wife for Yitzchak? Why is the story of finding a wife for Yitzchak seemingly so repetitious? What is Eliezer’s motivation in recounting that his oath will be extinguished if the prospective bride he selects elects not to return to marry Yitzchak? I believe that all of these occurrences serve a single end to teach us a timeless lesson.

Avraham, prior to sending Eliezer on the mission to find Yitzchak a bride, imposes two oaths upon his loyal servant. Eliezer is not to take a bride for Yitzchak from the land of Canaan. Moreover, under no circumstances is Eliezer to take Yitzchak back to the land of Avraham’s birth. Should the prospective bride refuse to come to Canaan, Eliezer will be relieved of his oath. After Eliezer expresses doubts about a woman being willing to return with him, Avraham provides some reassurance. Avraham tells Eliezer that all will be well for Hashem will send before him an angel to assist in the mission (Bereishit 24:7).

It is oft noted that slight differences exist between the conversation Avraham has with Eliezer and how Eliezer relates that conversation to Rivka’s family. One slight difference that might be overlooked concerns the angel mentioned by Avraham. When Eliezer recounts this aspect to Rivka’s family he does not say that an angel went before him. Rather, Eliezer declares that an angel is accompanying him and that his mission will be successful. Eliezer goes on to state that if Rivka’s family refuses to have her return with him, then he is absolved of the oath.

Rashi suggests that Eliezer’s motive in repeating his doubts was born of self-interest. It is proposed that Eliezer hoped his own daughter would marry Yitzchak, a notion Avraham rejected. Rashi theorizes that Eliezer thought that if his mission failed Avraham would reconsider a marriage between Eliezer’s daughter and Yitzchak. Although Eliezer may have harbored such thoughts prior to departing on his mission, when he repeated the conversation to Rivka’s family the intent was pure and to advance the success of his mission.

Eliezer sought to strip Rivka’s family of any bargaining power. Eliezer begins with a powerful statement. It is not that an angel traveled before him, rather at that very moment an angel of God is with him. Eliezer further informed Rivka’s family that although a match with her family would be preferred, any refusal on their part would dissolve the oath, enabling him to look elsewhere for a bride. It was a “take it or leave it” proposition. Eliezer was displaying absolute confidence that Hashem would assist him in his mitzvah mission. Rivka’s relatives could hitch themselves to Avraham’s star or be left in the dust. Eliezer let them know, through a display of absolute faith, that they were incapable of frustrating his assignment and there would be no negotiations.

It was from Avraham’s approach to buying Sarah’s burial plot that Eliezer learned this course of action. Avraham did not negotiate. He made a demand: “Sell me land. Rashi on Bereishit 23:4 explains the words “ger v’toshav” (גר ותושב אנכי עמכם), “a stranger and a resident am I with you,” as a veiled threat. Avraham was saying: “If you agree to sell me land then I am a stranger. If, however, you refuse to sell me the burial plot, then your measure of inequity will be fulfilled. At that point, by the will of Hashem, the land of Canaan will pass to me and I will legally take possession of the burial plot.” Avraham insists on possessing the burial plot by purchase. He refuses to take it as a gift and then willingly, without haggling, he pays the exorbitant asking price. From this event, with which this parsha begins, Eliezer understood how to deal with Rivka’s family.

The narrative of purchasing Sarah’s burial is appended to the story of finding a wife for Yitzchak because it influenced Eliezer’s approach to obtaining a bride for Yitzchak. Just as the details of the burial plot purchase was a lesson for Eliezer, so also is the rearticulation to Rivka’s relatives of Eliezer’s and Avraham’s conversation a lesson for us.

The lesson for us is not simply that we must have faith in Hashem. The lesson is that we must display our faith. When we undertake a holy cause, we must not only have confidence that Hashem will help us succeed, we must also display that confidence to the world. Displaying confidence that we will succeed because Hashem is with us is an essential element for us being able to succeed. Further, our displays of confidence in divine assistance has the salutary effect of helping others. It gives chizuk to others as they pursue their holy missions.

Eliezer was wise enough to learn from Avraham. Are we wise enough to learn from Eliezer?


William S.J. Fraenkel received a Bachelor of Arts in religion and a law degree from NYU and served as a board member and officer of several Orthodox shuls. The opinions expressed in this dvar Torah are solely his own.

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